From the editor
// Samantha Thompson

“Forbidding newspaper reporters and public radio producers from being regular citizens only empowers the enemies of the press.” —Conor Friedersdorf

On Oct. 17, Caitlin Curran was fired from her part-time job as web producer for The Takeaway, an American radio news program on the public radio station WNYC. She was fired as a result of an image that was circulated widely on the Internet: a photograph of her holding a sign at an Occupy protest.

Curran went to Occupy Times Square with her boyfriend, with the intention of observing the events while he held the sign. However, her boyfriend eventually grew tired of having his arms in the air, so Curran temporarily took over. In that moment, her picture was taken, freezing her in an image that would soon be circulated internationally.

The sign read, “It’s wrong to create a mortgagebacked security filled with loans you know are going to fail so that you can sell it to a client who isn’t aware that you sabotaged it by intentionally picking the misleadingly rated loans most likely to be defaulted upon.” The words were borrowed from an article by Conor Friedersdorf, a staff writer at The Atlantic, in an article he wrote about Occupy Wall Street that explained his criticism against the movement focusing on the symbolic idea of “Wall Street” as opposed to the physical businesses that operate on Wall Street, who should be the focus.

As the image gained popularity, Curran thought that 'it could be fodder for an interesting segment on The Takeaway," she wrote in an article for the Gawker where she detailed the series of unfortunate events that led to the dismissal from her job. “I pitched the idea to producers on the show, in an e-mail.” The next day, the general manager called her and fired her, saying that she “violated every ethic of journalism, and that this should be a ‘teaching moment’ for me in my career as a journalist,” wrote Curran.

This presents a very interesting situation. The Takeaway fired one of their employees for expressing an opinion when she was not on company time, was not raising a particularly controversial sign, and was not taking action in a malicious way. Firing her suggests that journalists should not be allowed to have a life outside of being a journalist. It suggests that choosing journalism as your profession means that you are not allowed to be politically active on your own time, and that you are not allowed to attend protests or involve yourself in other political environments, simply because your professional persona is required to be “unbiased”.

“There are signs that it would be inappropriate for any journalist to hold aloft in Times Square, even during her off hours. For example, ‘Let's Wage A Propaganda War Against Wall Street,’” wrote Friedersdorf in an article he wrote in response to the Curran incident. “Were I presiding over a journalistic organization, I'd fire anyone who publicly asserted or privately advocated subverting accuracy for a political cause.”

It is better that we as journalists are clear and open about our biases. A bias that is concealed from view still exists, and, arguably, hiding it is worse than being upfront about its presence. Media sources have tried for too long to feign objectivity, and yet hints of bias still litter articles and news reports in every paper and on every station.

As Friedersdorf wrote, “To borrow a phrase, every editor who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that propagating the myth of ‘objective journalism’ is indefensible. A newspaper or radio program may try to hide or obscure the fact that the people responsible for its content have opinions, convictions, and biases. But it is impossible to function as a journalist without making subjective judgment calls about newsworthiness, relevance and emphasis, or covering issues about which you have an opinion. Pretending otherwise requires willfully misleading the public.”

There is a significant difference between providing balanced coverage and being objective. Balanced coverage provides fair opportunity for both “sides” of an issue to have their voices heard; it is easy enough to do. The best any journalist can do in an effort to achieve objectivity is to ensure that their voice stays out of the article.

People want objective news, it’s true. When we see news pretending to be objective and failing, however, readers may understand what they are reading as fact, rather than someone’s subtle opinion. Journalists are human beings with thinking brains, which means that they live the majority of their lives subjectively. Only a robot could live their lives in a truly objective way, which is what Curran’s boss implied that she ought to do when he fired her.

Continuing to pretend that journalists are unbiased to the core would be an incredible disservice to the citizens of society. If you’re aware that bias exists, you can read articles critically and intelligently. Both readers and writers must keep each other accountable in order to maintain transparent and accountable news reporting, but in order to achieve this, the biases of journalists must be acknowledged and approved. If this level of accountability is not maintained, we are setting our society up for an infiltration of propaganda.

//Samantha Thompson, Editor-in-Chief

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com